Lord Booker and his prize: the plot thickens
Friday 25 July 1997
The story so far: Lord Booker, the tycoon after whom the prize is named, is furious because the BBC's coverage of the Booker Prize is not serious enough, and intends to transfer it to Channel 4, whether they want it or not, under the chairmanship of Melvyn Bragg. He has asked his luscious PA, Giulia, to get Bragg on the phone for him.
Lord Booker was a proud man. He was proud of his company. He was proud of his wife, car, house and children. He was proud of the fact that he could still touch his toes, though admittedly not with his knees straight. And he was proud enough to mind being laughed at. He always bridled when people thought he was Christopher Booker, ennobled. And he still burnt with anger at the thought of what Germaine Greer and Howard Jacobson had said about the Booker short-list last time round. Hah! That Australian woman! And that Jewish writer from Manchester! What did they know about books?
"Mr Bragg on the phone, sir," said Giulia's voice in his ear.
"Hi, Melvyn. Look, I'll come straight to the point. I want to take away the Booker from the BBC and give it to Channel 4, and I'll only do it if someone like you chairs it, someone who is acceptable to New Labour, to women everywhere and to scientists who have just written new books. What do you say?"
"I say," said a voice at the other end, "that you can stuff your Booker Prize up the nearest orifice." The phone was slammed down.
Lord Booker stared at the phone. He hadn't been talked to like that since ... well, he'd never been talked to like that.
He wasn't sure how to react. If he had been in a bar, he would have punched the man. If he had been in a novel, the novelist would have known how he should react. But he wasn't in a novel. He was Lord Booker, big tycoon. All he could think of was to summon Giulia.
"Giulia! Do you know what Melvyn Bragg just said to me?"
"That wasn't Melvyn Bragg. That was Billy Bragg."
"Who's Billy Bragg?"
"He's a radical singer/songwriter. You said, Get Bragg on the phone. You didn't specify. I thought you meant Billy."
"Well," said Lord Booker, feeling slightly relieved that he hadn't been slagged off by Melvyn, only by some singing trouble-maker he'd never heard of, "I've got news for you. Billy Bragg doesn't want to preside at the Booker Prize presentations."
"Fine," said Giulia. "I'll put him on my list and then strike him off again."
"Anyway," said Lord Booker, "I'd have thought you would have known I meant Melvyn Bragg."
"I would have thought it was obvious you didn't," said Giulia. "After all, it's between 9 and 10 on a Monday morning, so he's starting the week."
"We're all starting the week, Giulia."
"He's starting the week on the radio, sir. It's a BBC programme called Start the Week, which people listen to on the way to work."
"On the way to work?" said Lord Booker. "People are still on the way to work at 9am?"
"Yes, sir. Anyway, have a listen ..."
She switched on a radio that Lord Booker kept for news announcements and Test matches.
"If I've got this right," said a voice with a light Cumbrian tinge, "you are saying that because mushrooms and other fungi have evolved totally in the dark, then evolution is possible without light."
"That's right," said another voice, "and if this is true, then this means that all our previous theories will have to be rethought ..."
"With respect," said the light Cumbrian voice, "that's tosh. I don't know much about neurotechnology, but I would have thought that the nature of consciousness is such that ..."
"Who's that?" said Lord Booker in awe.
"It's Melvyn Bragg, sir," said Giulia.
"I thought he was a man of the people," said Lord Booker. "I thought he was clear and straightforward, no nonsense. Why is he talking like this? I thought you said he was some kind of Cumbrian saint!"
"I said he had written a book about a Cumbrian saint. I didn't say he was one."
Lord Booker stared into the distance. Suddenly things didn't look quite so simple any more.
Coming soon: another searing episode in which Lord Booker becomes convinced that new Booker judge Dan Jacobson is Howard Jacobson in disguise and tries to pull his beard off!
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